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Kit_L

Notes on how to use Stretch Therapy, written for an experienced coach who is a new user of Stretch Therapy (Chris Sommer)

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Excellent information, as always!

Adults, by definition, have experienced their second growth spurts, usually (but not always) in their late teens. There are many reason for this critically important difference, and these can be canvassed below if anyone's interested. The key point here is that standard methods (like "hold a stretch for 30") will not be effective in changing any present patterns that adults have.

Could you elaborate on this a bit more? Thank you.

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Jukka, hello there

A child's body has many critical differences to an adult's. The main ones are first, their fascial structures are much more malleable than an adult's and, second, their fascia structures have not yet habituated to a particular way of the body holding itself (and to which the fascia then responds, by toughening to maintain the shape). Adults, in stark contrast, live in what Wilhelm Reich called "character armour": a literal armouring that he claimed was a protective response to every threat, or injury, or perceived threat—for from the body's perspective (the mind's, really) there is no difference between real and perceived, just as in a dream. The body simply reacts.

So, two consequences: one is that any method, given enough time, will be effective for making children more flexible, and that is one of the reasons why dancers and gymnasts start early. Tiny increments of increased flexibility are incorporated in the growing body, and it's no big deal, day to day. But if we start our stretching as an adult, we are trying to change something that has lost much of its fluidity and plasticity and, more importantly, has learned to value being a certain way; a way that is reflexive patterns of holding the body in particular ways, to express various aspect of the personality, and so on. As I said above, in the ST system we are using the bones, tendons, skin, fascia, and muscle as the tools to change the patterns the mind has learned to respond to the world via. The child, on the other hand, is the tabula rasa that John Locke spoke of: a child can become a dancer, a violinist, or a couch potato—it all depends on what happens as they mature, and what captures their attention. The body has no volition in this regard: it simply reacts to what it is experiencing.

It's not all gloom, doom, and despair for adults, though: if you do become more flexible, then (and again in contrast to a child) you will be aware of these changes, and that awareness changes you and the mind's idea of the self. Becoming flexible as a child confers no special benefits beyond the flexibility, but this is not the case for adults. As we become more flexible, we are changing our emotional palette (because the emotional self is nothing more than a collection of patterns we manifest under different circumstances, learned as we grew up; the positive emotions are the relaxations of these patterns; think of the feeling of holding a baby) and in the process we giving ourselves options as to how we respond in the future to the same stimuli. It is a fascinating process that seems to have no end!

The last thing I want to say is that most adults want to become more flexible for a reason, as in gymnastics or martial arts. This is good, but it is only the beginning of a deeply interesting journey. Personally, I stretch to find out what the old body wants, and to feel really 'well' in my body. This might sound odd, but I am deeply grateful that I was amazingly stiff as a 27-year-old athlete, and I am so glad I persisted in a practise which, for the first two or three years, yielded no changes to the body that I could see or feel. I have made more progress in this regard over the last ten years than the previous 20.

If I have gone off on a tangent, and have not answered what you wanted to know, just ask. Cheers, KL

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Great write-up!

You mentioned that heat is necessary to remodel fascia, and also said ambient heat has little effect. I workout in a basement which is approximately 58 degrees F. If I wear long thermal underwear under my workout clothes, and warm-up by skipping rope for 5 minutes, will it be conducive to ST even if the ambient is cooling me off as I stretch? Or should I do my ST in a warmer environment to reap the benefits?

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Abdul, good question.

The answer turns on your experience in that environment; I'll be a bit more specific in a moment. I noticed years ago that I am loosest in winter, which goes against all the 'facts', but the reason is what I wear in winter: thermals and some outer skin, always. So, whenever I am planning a workout, those thermals go on before I even start. When I begin stretching in a cold place, the body initially feels tight (but I believe that comes from the additional muscle tension the body is creating just to maintain core temp., and this happens in any cold environment, including training facilities with cold air conditioning) but as soon as I start moving, I can feel that additional extensibility.

So, to answer your question, I think 5' skipping is not enough to create heat internally; try 10, if you can. And if skipping for 10' does not appeal, then any other bodyweight activity will work too. My favourite is bodyweight squats (on one retreat in New Mexico I worked my way up to 500 continuous bodyweight squats; it took about 14.5 minutes to complete the set, from memory, once I built the numbers up, but I was almost melting at the end, and the weather was cool.

Internal heat is much better for what we want that external heat. In my quest to get my side splits and full pancake back, I have taken to wearing my tights (what you call thermals) under my tracksuit pants, even though the weather is hot here—and I sweat as a result, from the upper body, as the body tries to keep the core cool. But because the lower half of the body can't shed heat as well (thermals and tracksuit pants) the lower limbs definitely increase in muscle core temp.; this is the direct experience. And when I go to stretch (I have to drive for 20' to the venue), those muscles already feel ready to work.

All make sense?

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Thanks for the great answer, Kit! That did make sense. On a different note, I just borrowed Stretching and Flexibility from my local library. Hopefully, with the stretches and concepts in the book and the idea of internal heat, I can make some progress towards in my splits and pancake stretches.

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If you have access to the book, get the DVD Update for it. It's not expensive and unlike the book, is not expensive to post (get the in-sleeve version). The DVD Update has many exercises not shown in the book (hamstrings and hip flexors in particular) and the Update, as you might expect, brings the book up to date! :)

Update: this program is available to download and/or stream from our Vimeo channel. No copy protection, either, so you can copy on to all your devices. Get it here:

 

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Hi, and welcome.

Q1a.  I think "structural limitations" in ST jargon would literally mean there is simply no mechanical possibility for further movement once tissues have been strengthened relaxed softened extended etc over months maybe years. People have become extremely flexible using ST (and derived) methods.  Is your question theoretical or practical?  ST is generally more interested on if it works, not how it works, rather than over-intellectualize.

Q1b. Considering ST belief that proprioception is fundamental to the method anything that gets in the way of mindfulness it probably would not be an obvious route to take for experimentation, but it is a very open system (just look at the work in the last 18 months on ballistic and pulsing stretching).  Give it a go and give us feedback.

Q2. ST very clearly advocates that stretching when warm is by far preferable. But again it is a framework/toolkit and makes suggestions not rules, so for example contractions are not prescribed, just a concept given for people to start out with.

I had a look at RPG (I am bilingual French).  The two fundamental claims to uniqueness seem to be postural chains and the need to stretch tonic muscles. There are a number of poses used, two an hour are worked with a therapist. It seems to be a rather closed system (little DIY guidance, expensive table required).  The goals are closer to pilates or rolfing ie around unlocking and achieving a certain desired posture, whereas ST is again a toolkit; some use it to achieve gymnastics poses, some just to be able to squat well, others for daily well being in their body

But we would be interested to hear your experiences or RPG and integrate anything that works into ST.

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Hello and thank you for your time and answers.

Q1a was meant to be really practical. From your answer, It seems I misunderstood what was meant by "structural limitations" as I understood it as "If after one or two sessions of stretching you don't notice improvements using contract-relax anymore, then it means you have reached structural limitations and other techniques must be used to gain additional flexiblity". From your answer I understand this kind of limitations would only appear after a much longer period of time.

Q1b : I plan to post workout log (stretching only) quite soon to monitor progress & keep myself accountable so that will answer the recommendation to give feedback.

Q2 : It is nice that you were able to read about the RPG. As said, RPG is really therapeutic only and as you say quite expensive material is necessary and a practitioner is needed. SGA is the part of the method for healthy sporty people. Here, no material or partner is required. 

I tried the system but it is quite boring (very long time required e.g. 10 minutes at least per pose) and difficult to maintain because the poses are "integral" (this is the basis of the approach, don't stretch isolated muscles but the whole chain). The fact that when you are stiff you still need to hold the entire pose felt very stressful for me as it was very difficult to maintain certain poses and you have no directions or intermediate steps for helping you get to the right pose. One of them is very similar to the abductor stretch of ST but for me this pose is at the moment very difficult because I am so stiff than when getting in the pose my back muscles tightens very strongly. But as said, no guidance how to solve this kind of issue in SGA method. 
And as you mention, the method is not so open as ST e.g. there is no forum to discuss potential issues and you need to rely on a SGA certified therapist or follow the workshop yourself if you don't understand something. 

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A side note on a side note: "Real", used in Wilden's way, is used to point to a vantage point that no human can experience (a "God's eye" view, a posited, objective perspective that an omnipotent god might see, if she cared to). Each of us can only perceive and experience reality from our own limited vantage point, the sensations and experiences themselves being anchored in our personal history. To illustrate the point: it does not matter what training or education or life experience I have, I cannot feel what Emmet is feeling when he works on side splits. But this direct experience is not necessary to still be able to make useful suggestions on how someone else might tackle a similar problem.

And we all share an evolutionary inheritance: most humans feel pain when they stretch something strongly, or bang up against something, and that experience of 'pain' is, at its most fundamental point, a protective mechanism to help us navigate a potentially hostile environment. But because most modern humans lived effectively cocooned (in clothing and footwear, a massively reduced physical demand set, and 10,000 distractions that take us away from sensations in the physical body) the point in the range of movement that the body is capable of where pain is experienced has become less and less—and this is simply because we do not use this ROM. The "map" has been made smaller. This is because the somatosensory cortex is made individually: precisely, it is constructed only by what you do, or don't do. 

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I'm in the process of reading S&F and there are a couple of points I need clarified on the C-R method.

(1) After the three part C-R has been repeated so no further ROM can be achieved, when in this final ROM does the stretchee use contractions or just try to relax the muscle being stretched.

(2) I read in one of Kits articles that this is not a Reps and Sets system but I would like some feedback on what is generally the optimum amount of sets the three part C-R should be applied.

I agree that everybody responds to stretching/stretching technics in a different way and one should experiment and find their best fit so maybe I've answered both questions on my own.

 

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10 minutes ago, Colin-M said:

I agree that everybody responds to stretching/stretching technics in a different way and one should experiment and find their best fit so maybe I've answered both questions on my own.

 

Welcome. Yes! to both.

The aim of the contraction is to turn off the stretch reflex briefly to allow you to reach a new position ... definitely are trying to relax into the end position.  The clue is are you breathing or not.

Look even within one person what works for one muscle group is different for another, and varies with time and experience, even what you did before, or from day to day. Three is not necessarily optimum but it does seem to be the best one size fits all. 

One extra tip. Contractions. Dont think more is better... especially at first. The more you can focus the contraction on the target muscle the more effective it will be.

 

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4 hours ago, Colin-M said:

(1) After the three part C-R has been repeated so no further ROM can be achieved, when in this final ROM does the stretchee use contractions or just try to relax the muscle being stretched.

Fundamental misunderstanding there; this is how it goes:

(Contract > breathe in, breathe out, let tummy go soft, breathe in, during period of breath out move deeper into desired ROM) x 3

Relax as much as possible in the final position for minimum of 30"; longer is better. As SD says, the state of your breathing is the key: if your breathing changes too mush (as in gets shallower or faster) you are not relaxing, you are defending. Back off.

The 'let the tummy go soft' is the latest addition to the toolbox; it turns out to be amazingly important and effective. 

4 hours ago, Colin-M said:

(2) I read in one of Kits articles that this is not a Reps and Sets system but I would like some feedback on what is generally the optimum amount of sets the three part C-R should be applied.

With respect, you are over-thinking this. Just try it for yourself. If extra repetitions of the C–R cycle yield extra ROM for you, then that's the scheme you use. Only you can find out. Three is a simple effort vs. reward model to start with. I need 6–7 repetitions for side splits to get down as far as I can on any day, and one for biceps. You will now know what yours is until you have worked your way around the whole body and (this is the amazing bit!), it will change over time. so, expect nothing when you get down on the floor, and feel what your body is feeding back to you as you play with this. Can be different on different days, too; I know it is for me and I have been doing this for a while.

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14 hours ago, Kit_L said:

Fundamental misunderstanding there; this is how it goes:

(Contract > breathe in, breathe out, let tummy go soft, breathe in, during period of breath out move deeper into desired ROM) x 3

Relax as much as possible in the final position for minimum of 30"; longer is better. As SD says, the state of your breathing is the key: if your breathing changes too mush (as in gets shallower or faster) you are not relaxing, you are defending. Back off.

The 'let the tummy go soft' is the latest addition to the toolbox; it turns out to be amazingly important and effective. 

With respect, you are over-thinking this. Just try it for yourself. If extra repetitions of the C–R cycle yield extra ROM for you, then that's the scheme you use. Only you can find out. Three is a simple effort vs. reward model to start with. I need 6–7 repetitions for side splits to get down as far as I can on any day, and one for biceps. You will now know what yours is until you have worked your way around the whole body and (this is the amazing bit!), it will change over time. so, expect nothing when you get down on the floor, and feel what your body is feeding back to you as you play with this. Can be different on different days, too; I know it is for me and I have been doing this for a while.

Thank you for your prompt response. Sorry if I didn't explain my question 2 properly as it was the number of times one would repeat the exercise as in weight training the number of sets performed. I find with my stretching over the years the 3 sets is best for me as I would rather undertrain slightly than overtrain and take longer to recoup or risk injury. I think it's better to start your next session with fresh muscles.

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19 hours ago, SwissDanny said:

Welcome. Yes! to both.

The aim of the contraction is to turn off the stretch reflex briefly to allow you to reach a new position ... definitely are trying to relax into the end position.  The clue is are you breathing or not.

Look even within one person what works for one muscle group is different for another, and varies with time and experience, even what you did before, or from day to day. Three is not necessarily optimum but it does seem to be the best one size fits all. 

One extra tip. Contractions. Dont think more is better... especially at first. The more you can focus the contraction on the target muscle the more effective it will be.

 

Thankyou for your help. Up to now I've been following the Thomas Kurz method (which I'm sure your familiar with) where the last stretch is held in contraction and the emphasis is building strength in the muscle which is claimed to translate to improved flexibility. I will be trying this new method for me of relaxing and breathing on the last rep. I would appreciate your thoughts on the Thomas Kurz method.

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Thomas certainly has excellent dynamic flexibility, as his many YT videos attest. But we (ST) feels that the required strength and flexibility can be acquired more safely via the methods we recommend, and as we say on the Mastery Series, if you want superior flexibility (the example is side splits) you need to be strong enough to be able to support all your weight on the leg muscles alone. He can do this too, of course, as the images on the covers of his book show!

The possible contradiction can be resolved in consideration of the (at least) two systems involved. IF an extra contraction gets you deeper, you are working on the neural system. If not, and you feel no further elongation is possible, you are probably hanging off your fascial system; this is why you back off slightly and stay in the end position for a few minutes, relaxing as much as you can: this allows the fascia to adapt (it will feel like 'creeping'). You will learn to feel the difference. 

His morning dynamic drills I endorse 100%.

Re. numbers of sets: that was what I was talking about. To rephrase, three iterations of contractions and relaxations, rather than one. But what I was pointing to is that this varies by person and body part—I need 6–iterations of the cycle described to get best side splits any day. For neck muscles, one is sufficient.

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On 14/04/2018 at 1:10 AM, Kit_L said:

Thomas certainly has excellent dynamic flexibility, as his many YT videos attest. But we (ST) feels that the required strength and flexibility can be acquired more safely via the methods we recommend, and as we say on the Mastery Series, if you want superior flexibility (the example is side splits) you need to be strong enough to be able to support all your weight on the leg muscles alone. He can do this too, of course, as the images on the covers of his book show!

The possible contradiction can be resolved in consideration of the (at least) two systems involved. IF an extra contraction gets you deeper, you are working on the neural system. If not, and you feel no further elongation is possible, you are probably hanging off your fascial system; this is why you back off slightly and stay in the end position for a few minutes, relaxing as much as you can: this allows the fascia to adapt (it will feel like 'creeping'). You will learn to feel the difference. 

His morning dynamic drills I endorse 100%.

Re. numbers of sets: that was what I was talking about. To rephrase, three iterations of contractions and relaxations, rather than one. But what I was pointing to is that this varies by person and body part—I need 6–iterations of the cycle described to get best side splits any day. For neck muscles, one is sufficient.

Thank you for the excellent explanation.

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On 10/10/2012 at 6:41 PM, Kit_L said:

but what is not obvious to anybody is that one's pattern of flexibility is actually one's "self": one's personality, self-beliefs, fears, and so on. One's emotional self is precisely this pattern.

Kit could you please expand on this and also send me towards books that could broaden my understanding on this subject?

I've heard similar sentiments echoed in Alexander's work (Alexander technique) about movement patterns, which makes some sense... But I have a fuzzy appreciation for what exactly this means.

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@Matt Hill, take a look at yourself in the mirror: what you see is precisely a unique set of tensions; these are intimately related to your patterns of flexibility. All the lines in one's face (and elsewhere in the body) are formed by tension. This is why the deceased look so relaxed, too: the mechanism creating tension (our thoughts) has been disconnected.

The major texts on this are Wilhelm Reich and Antonio Damasio, but that's a huge amount of reading and each requires a fairly deep understanding of the fields that each write in; both are listed in the Reading section (the "6 'Rs"). The Cliff Notes version is that each of us presents ourselves to the world in an unique way, and holds ourselves and moves in a unique way. Damasio was the first to discover that emotions are physical properties of held tension, rather than "mental" ones (although the closer you look, the harder it is to distinguish between these). So "butterflies in the stomach" or feeling anxious is the stomach lining fibrillating, in reality. Every other aspect about ourselves is similar.

Acquiring new ranges of movement, and decreasing one's resting muscle tonus simply opens up options that did not exist before. Last point in this huge subject is that no living thing responds to stress be opening, lengthening, and relaxing: it is always the opposite movements. Opening yourself (this is what ST is really all about) redresses these natural, hard-wired protective mechanisms, and creates new ways of being. 

There's more, but this really is a HUGE topic: even your idea of yourself is a collection of habits, which are literally recreated and modified moment-by-moment. According to the Buddha, none of this is real (in the sense of being absolute or unchanging) and one of the goals of meditation is to have the insight that this is accurate (the core teaching is anatta, or no-self, if you want to look this up). It's a long way down this rabbit hole!

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11 hours ago, Kit_L said:

The major texts on this are Wilhelm Reich and Antonio Damasio, but that's a huge amount of reading and each requires a fairly deep understanding of the fields that each write in

Well, I guess I've got a bunch of reading to do! 

 

11 hours ago, Kit_L said:

There's more, but this really is a HUGE topic: even your idea of yourself is a collection of habits, which are literally recreated and modified moment-by-moment. According to the Buddha, none of this is real (in the sense of being absolute or unchanging) and one of the goals of meditation is to have the insight that this is accurate (the core teaching is anatta, or no-self, if you want to look this up).

I can't say I have had a direct experience of this during practice, although some interesting things have been discovered.

Intellectually I think I understand the concept. We are constantly moulded by the unfolding present. Every deceivingly small event we experience impacting our thoughts and behaviours in some way. Reminds me of Heraclitus -  'A man never enters the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man'.

Perhaps a misunderstanding, but in my mind anatta also has some meaning related to the interconnectedness of all things?

 

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